I sat down with Sheila Craig at her kitchen table in rural Preston, Minn. Her husband Norm sat in another room, while I conducted the interview. Norm and Sheila, who have been married since 1969, raised two sons, Andy, 45, and Lee, 41. Norm, who is from Everly, Iowa, met Sheila at Iowa State University. Here’s what I learned…
Hailing from Decorah, Iowa, Sheila Craig grew up on a farm south of Burr Oak. Like a page out of “Little House on the Prairie,” she attended a country school in Burr Oak until seventh grade. She went on to Decorah High School, where she graduated in 1967. From there, she attended Iowa State University to earn a degree in Home Economics Education in 1971. Sheila later earned a Master’s in Adult Education from the University of Minnesota.
She went onto serve as the Fillmore County director of the University of Minnesota Extension Office for 28-1/2 years, retiring on July 31, 2003. Sheila also worked for the Southeast Minnesota Wastewater Initiative, acting as a community sewage treatment facilitator for 20 years. She has also worked part-time as a hostess for over 20 years at the Branding Iron in Preston.
Since she retired, well, she didn’t really retire. She filled her time with volunteer opportunities.
At the end of every monthly Preston Area Chamber of Commerce business meeting, there’s time for members to share updates with what’s new with their business or organization. Sheila Craig always has a few updates to share. And, not just for one organization.
She has become the volunteer hub of Preston, Minn.
Below is her list of organizations in which she has or currently does serve in some capacity.
• Preston Historical Society, since 2002
• Salvation Army (Fillmore County Unit), for more than 15 years
• Burr Oak Methodist Church and Preston United Methodist Church (church board and women’s circle), over 20 years
• Fillmore County Fair Board, since 2019
• Preston Foods Shelf, since 2020
• Southeast Minnesota Sustainable Development Partnership, since 2012
• Southeast Minnesota Together, more than six years
• Southeast Minnesota Initiative Fund (Grants Committee), more than three years
• Meals on Wheels, a very long time
Needless to say, Sheila is never bored. Any given day of the week, she is probably attending a meeting or selling raffle tickets. She’s always doing something to help her organizations succeed.
“I enjoy helping our community complete their goals,” shared Craig.
She continued to say, “Most of the fundraising that I have done is with my church and the Preston Historical Society. For churches, I donate and work at the church dinners. For the Preston Historical Society, I’ve helped with the raffle and the tractor ride. I write grants for the PHS and for the Fillmore County Fair Board. Mostly, it is giving my time to help with an event.”
Along with her amazing amount of time dedicated to volunteerism, she finds time to speak at libraries and non-profit groups throughout the Midwest, giving a presentation titled “Remembering the Apron.” She’s been giving that presentation for the past 18 years.
With all of the time and energy Sheila Craig has committed to various organizations, she feels proud of what these organizations have accomplished.
The tractor ride generates about $5,000 per year for the Preston Historical Society. They get about 70 to 80 tractors per year, with most of their participants coming from Iowa, along with Minnesota and Wisconsin.
While at Sheila’s home, she pulled out a collection of Red Wing crocks dedicated to the history of Preston, Minn. As she carefully set each of them on her kitchen table, she explained how they sold a limited number of the crocks for 10 years starting in 2003, and including a special one to celebrate the sesquicentennial. She has a list of all of those who purchased them each year over the course of 10 years. Only a handful of people have the entire collection. This was one of many projects that Sheila helped out with, selling crocks to prospective collectors. They raised $3,000 per year over the 10-year period for a total of $30,000.
She feels the one project that’s going to have the greatest impact is the Preston Historical Campus and Riverfront project. The Preston Historical Society recently received approval for $10,000 for implementation of the master plan project, having previously received a $10,000 grant for the development of the master plan.
As a young girl, she was involved in her church and 4-H, so volunteerism has always been a part of her life.
She’s hoping there will be another generation, just like hers, that will take an interest in volunteering for local organizations.
But, how do you get others involved in volunteerism? That seems to be an ongoing question.
Sheila offers this suggestion to prospective volunteers, “You have to like people. You can be a helper and not an organizer.”
She feels that it has to be something meaningful. “It needs to be something that they are interested in. Then you need to explain the task to them and have it be a small ask to start with.”
It seems there are many organizations in jeopardy of folding due to a lack of volunteers. And, when those organizations disappear, they probably won’t be revived. They’re more important than most people realize. Volunteer organizations coordinate events and raise funds for community projects. They bring people together to get things done that would otherwise never happen. And, at no cost to the community. Volunteers like Sheila Craig are virtually irreplaceable.